Getting the jab done: flu vaccination myth-busting
Published on 26 October 2019 12:03 PM
Despite the overall uptake of the flu vaccination rates being fairly consistent in the past few years, there were 16,133 more admissions to hospital for flu and pneumonia for people aged 50 and over in the winter period of 2018/19, than there were in the previous year – with 5,370 more hospital admissions in the 65 and over age group.[i]
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimate the average cost of hospital admissions for treating flu are £3,000 per person.[ii]
But despite this, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) target of vaccinating 75% of people aged 65 years and over, continues to be woefully unmet by the majority of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). In fact only 15% (30 out of 195) of CCGs met the 75% recommended target rate for vaccines for older people in 2018-19. [iii]
The latest evidence from Public Health England shows that in the more densely populated areas such as London, Luton, Manchester and Brighton the uptake of the flu vaccination has also been lower than compared with the previous year.
In London Boroughs in particular, the uptake for vaccinations for people aged 65 and over were all lower than the national average of 72% in 2018/19.[iv]
Age UK's Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's Charity Director, said: "The flu is a serious health hazard for older people, particularly for those who are frail or who have other conditions that undermine their resilience.
“We would encourage any older person to make sure they receive the jab every year as it offers valuable protection against the virus and anything that can be done to help prevent older people from contracting flu is worth doing.”
Age UK’s myth buster can dispel some of the misunderstandings surrounding the flu vaccination:
1. Having flu is just like having a heavy cold
Flu kills - flu is much worse than a heavy cold. While some people will get the flu and recover others will get complications caused by flu, and become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.
2. Having the flu vaccine gives you flu
It is impossible to get the flu from the adult vaccination as it doesn’t contain the live virus. It takes two weeks to become effective so it is important to get it as soon as possible.
3. The flu vaccination gives you bad side effects
Risk of a serious side effect from having the flu vaccine is one in a million. For the most part, the side effects are mild, or none at all. Most common is experiencing soreness around the site of the injection. Occasionally aching muscles, however a lot less serious than actually having the flu.
4. Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life
A flu vaccination is not a life-long protection against flu and each year the virus changes so the component of the vaccination changes, so it differs from year to year. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of the flu season that year.
5. It takes too long to get a doctor’s appointment
GP surgeries, local pharmacies and some community pharmacies such as ones in supermarkets provide the adult flu vaccination. Although last year the flu vaccination was gradually made available over a three month period this year the flu vaccination recommended for patients over 65 will be in place before 31 October.
6. Who shouldn’t have the flu vaccination?
Most adults can have the injected flu vaccine, but you should avoid it if you have had a serious allergic reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.
It is recommended that you should not get a flu shot when you are significantly ill or have a fever. If you have just a minor illness, you can still get a flu vaccine, but anything more serious and you should hold off until you are better. But to be sure, check with your healthcare professional.
7. Can vegans have the flu vaccination?
Some flu vaccines do come with an egg allergy risk because they’re made using eggs. In recent years, flu vaccines that are egg-free have become available. If an egg-free flu vaccine is not available, a GP may be able to find a suitable flu vaccine with a low egg content.
The nasal spray Fluenz Tetra which is used to immunise children contains pork gelatine. Gelatine is used in the children's nasal flu vaccine because it is an effective stabiliser which helps to preserve the drug and make sure it remains safe and effective while it's stored and transported. There are alternatives to the gelatine nasal spray however, they are less effective.
For more information on keeping well at winter visit: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/keep-well-this-winter/
[i] NHS Hospital Admissions
NHS Digital, Hospital Episode Statistics for England. Admitted Patient Care statistics, 2018-19
[ii] Flu hospitalisation cost
[iii] England uptake by CCGs – p5
[iv] Regional statistics – sheet LA Main GP
London reasons for low uptake
A survey of older people in the south London area showed the reasons for not having the flu vaccination as; believing the flu vaccination had made them ill, that they thought were not vulnerable to flu, that they didn’t need it because of other health reasons or under-lying beliefs and finally that they thought GP waiting lists being too long.